Questions From Readers
● Why does the New World Translation at John 1:18 read “only-begotten god” whereas many other translations read “only-begotten Son”?—D. S., United States.
John 1:18 reads: “No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom position with the Father is the one that has explained him.” The apostle John obviously is here referring to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. However, Jesus is not only the only-begotten Son of God but also a god, the only-begotten god. No doubt John used the Greek word for god, theós, here rather than the word huiós, “son,” because he wanted to stress Jesus’ godship rather than his sonship, in keeping with the opening verse of his Gospel in which he says of Jesus, “and the Word was a god.”
That the apostle John himself did use the word theós instead of the word huiós is most likely, for that is the way the oldest and most authoritative Greek manuscripts read. That is also why the Westcott and Hort text, upon which the New World Translation is based, reads this way.
Interestingly, not a few modern Bible translations that read “only-begotten Son” have footnotes indicating that other manuscripts read “God” instead of “Son.” This is true of the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version and Weymouth. Moffatt reads: “the divine One, the only Son,” but a footnote acknowledges that “theós (’the divine one’) is probably more original than the variant reading huiós.” Rotherham renders the expression: “an Only Begotten God,” and Msgr. Knox’s version states in a footnote: “Some of the best manuscripts here read ‘God, the only-begotten,’ instead of ‘the only-begotten Son.’”
So it is seen that there is ample basis for the New World Bible Translation Committee to have rendered the passage as it did; and that Westcott and Hort had sound reasons for rendering the text the way they did is recognized by others. However, many translators stumbled at the expression “the only-begotten god” and therefore preferred the reading of lesser authorities to that of the best.
● Why do the witnesses of Jehovah address each other as “Brother” and “Sister”? I have never found any Scriptural authority for it. Jesus always addressed his disciples as “Peter,” “John,” and so forth, but never as “Brother Peter” and “Brother John.”—E. J., United States.
There are valid reasons for dedicated Christian believers to refer to one another as “Brother” and “Sister.” It is true that, with few exceptions, these terms when used in the Gospels and in the book of Acts refer to flesh-and-blood relatives. However, Jesus did use the expression “brother” in a general sense for fellow believers when he said: “Look! My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother.” Also, “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”—Matt. 12:49, 50; 18:15.
The apostles and disciples of Jesus used the term “brother” in an even more direct sense. And so we repeatedly find such expressions as these occurring throughout their writings: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator,” said Paul. Ananias, the faithful disciple, referred to the persecutor Saul, who had repented, as “Saul, brother.” Later, Paul himself spoke of “Sosthenes our brother,” “Apollos our brother,” “Titus my brother,” and “our brother Timothy.” So also Peter referred to Paul as “our beloved brother Paul.” And in Acts 21:20 we read: “They said to him: ‘You behold, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews.’” Surely in view of all these examples there can be no valid objection to it when Christians refer to fellow believers as “Brother” and “Sister.”—1 Cor. 5:11; Acts 9:17; 1 Cor. 1:1; 16:12; 2 Cor. 2:13; Heb. 13:23; 2 Pet. 3:15.
The use of a family name as well as a given name, which was not the practice in the first century, has also made it advantageous to use the expression “Brother” with the family name as is now done. It helps avoid both the extreme of undue familiarity and that of undue reserve. To address an adult by his given name today indicates a familiarity that may not always be fitting, especially not on the part of youth toward adults or on the part of strangers to one another. On the other hand, to use the formal term “Mister” would savor of a lack of friendliness, a reserve that does not prevail among the members of the dedicated Christian community. Therefore “Brother” and “Sister” appear to be the logical as well as Scriptural designations to use, since dedicated Christians view one another as members of a spiritual or religious family.
● How are we to understand Ephesians 3:14, 15, which speaks of “the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name”? Are there many families in heaven, and how can it be said that every family on earth owes its name to God?—G. G., United States.
The expression here rendered “every family” is pása patriá, and may be rendered either “whole family” (AV) or “every family.” Modern translations generally read “every family,” as does the New World Translation.
Of course, there are not families in heaven such as there are on earth, with a father over each family group and a wife, and the other members thereof being children of the parents, because in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage. (Luke 20:34, 35) However, Jehovah God is married to his organization and has children by her. (Isa. 54:5) Jesus Christ is espoused to his congregational bride and is receiving members to himself in the heavenly realm. (2 Cor. 11:2) The faithful members of the anointed remnant on earth are included among the members of the family of God, and the “other sheep” of today are prospective members of that family.—Rom. 8:14-17; John 10:16.
“Every family . . . on earth” appears to refer, not to every little family group living together, but to a family line that preserves a name. According to the law of Moses, Jehovah God believed in the preservation of the family line in that he always made provision for heirs to pass on the family name, as in the case of levirate marriage. (Deut. 25:5, 6; Ruth 4:3-10) If it were not for Jehovah’s creative power, there would never have been such families, each one bearing and extending down through time a name. Every family therefore owes its name to him, not directly, not as though he had given each family line its individual name, but indirectly in that he has made it possible for there to be families on earth with a name. In this sense every family, the one family in the heavens and the many family lines on earth, owe to him their names. They owe to him their existence with the opportunity and privilege of bearing distinctive names.